Bears are going to start waking up from hibernation, and they're probably pretty hungry because they haven't eaten for months.
That's why the Minnesota DNR is reminding people who live in forested areas of northeastern and central Minnesota (where bears are most common) to check their yards for anything that could attract bears, especially this time of year when the food bears usually eat – berries and green vegetation – will be scarce.
“Leaving food out in yards that can be eaten by bears can lead to property damage and presents dangers to bears," Eric Nelson, wildlife animal damage program supervisor for the DNR, said in a news release. "Pet food, livestock feed, birdseed, compost or garbage can attract bears."
Here are some tips for keeping bears away:
- "Coolers are not bear-proof." That's why you shouldn't leave any food out in your yard, especially overnight. And be sure to clean your grill after you use it – and store it in a secure shed or garage, away from windows and doors.
- Ditch the hummingbird feeder. Instead, replace them with hanging flower baskets, which also attracts hummingbirds but not so much bears.
- Hang your bird feeders up high. They should be 10 feet up and 4 feet from the nearest trees. And be sure to clean up any spilled bird seed. Also, if you have a nuisance bear, don't hang the feeder until Dec. 1, when beers are usually hibernating. This will help prevent the bear from coming back.
- Store pet food inside. If you feed your pet outside, only give them as much as they'll eat so there won't be any extra for a bear.
- Pick fruits and veggies as soon as they're ready. Also, be sure to collect any fruit that falls right away, and plant your garden away from forests and shrubs bears may use for cover.
- Don't put scraps of food in your compost pile. Instead, limit it to grass, leaves and garden clippings. Also, turn the piles regularly.
- Use native plants in landscaping. Things like clover and dandelions attract bears.
- Don't feed the bears. Be sure not to put out food – corn, oats, pellets or molasses blocks – for wildlife.
- Bear-proof your garbage. Store it in bear-resistant containers (they can get into rubber or plastic cans), and keep your trash inside a secure building until it's time for pickup. And if your trash is especially stinky, take it to a local refuse facility so it can be buried (you can also freeze smelly things like meat and fish scraps until it's garbage day).
If you're still having problems with bears visiting your property after taking these precautions, it's best to contact a DNR area wildlife office for help. You can find their contact information here or call 651-296-6157.
Human-bear conflicts – how often they happen
There are about 20,000 black bears in Minnesota (they're the only species of wild bear in the state), and it's not very common that they choose to be near people. They're shy and will usually flee when they see a human.
But there are some instances where humans and bears do encounter each other. Over the past five years, there were an average of 802 complaints made annual about bears to the DNR, statistics show. In 2016, there were 898 complaints – here's what people complained about:
When a bear keeps coming back to someone's property or continues to threaten people's safety, the DNR steps in. But they don't relocate these nuisance bears because they usually don't stay where they're released – they could return to where they were caught or become a problem somewhere else.
So instead, wildlife officials, hunters or homeowners kill the problem animals.
Last year, 73 black bears were killed and zero were relocated, the DNR says. On average over the past five years, 50 nuisance bears were killed each year. And between 2012-16, only five bears were relocated.